The Olympic Motto appeals to our time-starved, fuel-injected, fast-forwarded, in-putted, out-sourced, on-demand, off-hours, hi-def, hi-tech, up-linked, down-loaded, over-stimulated, under-the-radar and ready-to-wear nation. FASTER – HIGHER – STRONGER perfectly mirrors American culture, which is all about being the fastest, the highest and the strongest. The “-est” and “-er” suffixes convey superlative (i.e, best, top, most… vocabulary of the competitive). According to Yankelovich, 66% of consumers today agree, “I work hard at coming out on top in every situation—from the least important to the most important.”
FASTER – HIGHER – STRONGER was created in 1894 by the founder of the IOC to encourage the athletes to give it their all. The Motto’s accompanying Creed is “the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential things is not to have won, but to have fought well.” Together the Olympic Creed and Motto promote important life lessons such as playing fair, but in America “winning” is everything.
Perhaps the challenges of the last decade have made Americans even more competitive than they’ve been historically, but just about every product in the US seems to sell on the promise of PERFORMANCE. And, extreme performance at that. (Have you seen the trend parodying the overabundance of “extreme” sports called oxymoronically “extreme ironing”?)
Especially today, Americans are seeking the fastest and/or strongest performing autos, dandruff shampoos, floor cleansers, sneakers, wrinkle creams, etc. Even our snack foods and chewing gum today have been ultra-ized to be longer-lasting and more intense. For example, Doritos’ advertising campaign is based on the idea of “snack strong” and boasting that the chips “tastes like awesome feels” – powerful.
A client from one of America’s iconic heritage brands recently asked me for examples of “nostalgic and high-performance” brands. He wanted to know which brands are parlaying both their heritage AND a “faster-higher-stronger” message. Such brands, it turns out, tend to have portfolios that feature UNnovative products AND INnovative products, such as Coke, Tide, Converse and Levis. Each of these brands offer a “classic” model as well as a “high-tech, advanced” model. Mercedes Benz is a brand that capitalizes on its history and heritage, while also delivering on high performance through state-of-the-art technologies.
ancient cultural ways have new relevance
Anyway, with every trend there is a counter-trend. The antidote to our “Olympian-styled culture” of lean-forward, high-octane, top-performance is: SLOWER – LOWER – SOFTER. Disconnecting. Quieting. Pairing down sensorial experiences. Streamlining. Focusing on nuances. This is where “make overs” are replaced by “make unders”.
There is a trend growing in America amongst the Jewish community that stems from Orthodox Jewish religious culture, but which might also be fueled by the secular (medical) world: practicing Shabbat. Young urbanite Internet-addicted multi-taking smartphone-carrying Americans are rediscovering and emabracing Shabbat. Shabbat is the Jewish tradition of abstaining from using electricity, which precludes using machinery and electronics, on the Sabbath to rest and focus on relationships and family. Religiosity aside, regularly disconnecting like this is proven to have enormous health benefits. It makes sense especially in our high-performance culture.
The Olympics is mainly a device to harmoniously bring together athletes and spectators (citizens and cultures) from the five continents, symbolized by the five Olympic rings. We modern Americans think we have it all figured out, but there is still so much we can learn from history and cultures, repurposing ancient ways to address contemporary issues. Isn’t that an example of how UNnovation and Innovation can work in tandem?
With all the buzz about these games being the “Social Games”, because of all the mobile Apps and social chatter around the athletes, matches, controversies, etc… It occurs to me that a lot of “social” media is driven by competition: to be the first, the wittiest, the most creative, the most thoughtful, the most connected, the most liked, the most retweeted, etc. So, how about making these games the “NOcial games” (as in the NOT social games). Instead, take pause. Slow down. Put the phone down. Disconnect. Focus. Simply watch the Olympics without any citius, altus, forius.